The "bowler hats and bureaucrats" image of the public sector – and the view that job cuts can be made without having a negative impact on services – is false and a myth, unions have argued.
A report by the TUC has challenged the notion that the public sector is bloated when it comes to management, with the union arguing that, in fact, it operates with far fewer managers than the private sector.
Politicians claim that big savings can be made by axing thousands of civil service and other public sector managerial posts, and that this would deliver services more efficiently.
Yet by analysing official statistics, the TUC argued that private sector managers were responsible for six staff on average, while in the public sector they were responsible for 14 staff.
According to the Labour Force Survey, the private sector's three million managers are responsible for 17.5 million members of staff.
Almost a fifth of employees in the private sector are managers, compared with less than one in ten in the public sector.
This in turn equates to roughly one manager for every six employees. But the public sector has just 0.5 million managers on its payroll, in charge of around 6.8 million workers, with each manager responsible for 14 staff.
The Government's Gershon Efficiency Review identified £20 billion in possible cuts that could be made to the civil service, which would see 70,000 jobs going from central government departments.
But the TUC estimated that savings of some £18 billion could be made in public procurement and through the better use of technology, without having to cut a single post.
TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: "Public servants have become easy targets for some politicians. They want us to believe two things about the public services that are both wrong.
"First that you can make easy cuts to management and bureaucrats, without having any effect on public service delivery.
"Second that there is an easy distinction between frontline-staff who are all wonderful, and backroom staff who are a drag on the system.
"And what takes the biscuit is that politicians keep going to the finance sector for advice on these issues when the figures clearly show they employ more managers and bureaucrats than almost anyone else," he added.